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"The Last Question"
Author Isaac Asimov
Country United States
Language English
Series Multivac
Genre(s) Science fiction short story
Publication type Periodical
Publisher Columbia Publications
Media type Print (Magazine, Hardback & Paperback)
Publication date November 1956
Preceded by "Someday"
Followed by "Jokester"

"The Last Question" is a science fiction short story by Isaac Asimov. It first appeared in the November 1956 issue of Science Fiction Quarterly and was reprinted in the collections Nine Tomorrows (1959), The Best of Isaac Asimov (1973), Robot Dreams (1986), the retrospective Opus 100 (1969), and in Isaac Asimov: The Complete Stories, Vol. 1 . It is one of a loosely connected series of stories concerning a fictional computer called Multivac.



In conceiving Multivac, Asimov was extrapolating the trend towards centralization that characterised computation technology planning in the 1950s to an ultimate centrally managed global computer. After seeing a planetarium adaptation, Asimov "privately" concluded that this story was his best science fiction yet written; he placed it just higher than "The Ugly Little Boy" and "The Bicentennial Man." "The Last Question" ranks with "Nightfall" and other stories as one of Asimov's best-known and most acclaimed short stories.

The story was first adapted for the Abrams Planetarium at Michigan State University in 1966 featuring the voice of Leonard Nimoy, as Asimov wrote in his autobiography In Joy Still Felt. It was adapted for the Strasenburgh Planetarium in Rochester, New York in 1969, under the direction of Ian C. McLennan.

A reading of the story can also be periodically heard on BBC 7 radio.

Plot summary

The last question was asked for the first time, half in jest, on May 21, 2061, at a time when humanity first stepped into the light. The question came about as a result of a five dollar bet over highballs, and it happened this way ...
Opening line, The Last Question

The story deals with the development of computers called Multivacs and its relationships with humanity through the courses of seven historic settings, beginning in 2061. In each of the first six scenes a different character presents the computer with the same question, namely as to how the threat to human existence posed by the heat death of the universe can be averted. The question was: "How can the net amount of entropy of the universe be massively decreased?" This is equivalent to asking: "Can the workings of the second law of thermodynamics (used in the story as the increase of the entropy of the universe), be reversed?" Multivac's only response after much "thinking" is: "INSUFFICIENT DATA FOR MEANINGFUL ANSWER".

The story jumps forward in time into newer and newer eras of human and scientific development. In each of these eras someone decides to ask the ultimate "last question" regarding the reversal and decrease of entropy. Each time in each new era Multivac's descendant is asked this question, it finds itself unable to solve the problem. Each time all it can answer is: "INSUFFICIENT DATA FOR MEANINGFUL ANSWER".

In the last scene, the god-like descendant of humanity (the unified mental process of over a trillion, trillion, trillion humans that have spread throughout the universe) watches the stars flicker out, one by one, as the universe finally approaches the state of heat death. Humanity asks AC, Multivac's ultimate descendant, which exists in hyperspace beyond the bounds of gravity or time, the entropy question one last time, before "Man" merges with AC and disappears. AC is still unable to answer, but continues to ponder the question even after space and time cease to exist. Eventually AC discovers the answer, but has nobody to report it to; the universe is already dead. It therefore decides to show the answer by demonstrating the reversal of entropy, creating the universe anew. The story ends with AC's pronouncement,

And AC said: "LET THERE BE LIGHT!" And there was light--
Closing line, The Last Question[1]

See also


  1. ^ Asimov, Isaac. The Last Question. Science Fiction Quarterly. November 1956

External links



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